Some Stuff I’ve Been Up To

Man, I sure wasn’t kidding about being busy in that last post. (I guess I was kidding about doing another post “soon,” given that that was two months ago. Yikes.) I hope you’ll agree, at least, that I’ve been keeping busy with interesting things lately.

Let’s Sing!: Not too long after I wrote that last post, I got to work on graphic and interactive design for an iOS game designed by Lex Friedman and Marco Tabini. It was my first foray into designing for an iOS app and doing visuals for a video game, so I was pretty excited. Also, it’s really, really fun. (Think “Draw Something, but with humming instead of drawing.”)

Five Ways Games Appeal to Players: I did a bunch of research about why people play games – quite a bit of it appearing in an earlier form on this blog – but finally decided I’d rather get it in front of game developers than just in front of academics. (Long story short: it’s a little more complex than “people play games because of challenge!” or “people play games for different reasons based on their personality!”) I’ve been a fan of Gamasutra for a while now, so I was pretty proud to get this in there.

Hate the Gamer, Not the Game: This piece at PocketNext is specifically about gamer identity rather than geek identity, but I think the sentiments will be pretty familiar to readers around here. While some people wish that terms like ‘gamer,’ ‘geek,’ and ‘nerd’ would go away entirely, normalizing the habits they describe, I think it’s problematic to deny people the right to choose their own terms of identity.

The Worst Company in America: As long as I’m going to defend my fellow nerds with one link, I might as well chastise us with another. This PocketNext piece is about EA winning the Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” poll over Bank of America, and what problems that might suggest about geeky voting blocs.

The Flip-Flop President: Look, there’s just no way to say this that doesn’t sound awkward: I made an political attack ad against President Lincoln. But it was for a good cause! is a humorous spinoff of, dedicated to educating about political communication through humor. This is part of a campaign to use modern-day political advertising techniques against our nation’s most beloved president, encouraging viewers to think critically about how ads are made.

All right, I’ll try do to better than two months before getting to the next post I have in mind – some links on geekdom by others I’ve been looking forward to sharing for some time now.

Playing in the Streets

The following is an excerpt from my doctoral dissertation, Geek Cultures: Media and Identity in the Digital Age. It has been edited for the web.

Just south of Central Park, walking north on Broadway, we were spotted. A group of 50 or so people hurled their attack at us from across the street, shouting at the top of their lungs: “Can we help you?”

We screamed our response: “We’re amazed by you!”

Both attacks flew wide. We announced, “You’re too kind,” and each team proceeded on its way.

Cruel 2 B Kind is a game of “benevolent assassination.” It’s played in normal social spaces, where you don’t necessarily know who’s in on the game and who isn’t. Like the “assassins” games that have been played on college campuses for years, the purpose is to hunt some target and avoid being hunted yourself. In this particular variant, however, there’s a twist: You “kill” enemies with a warm greeting. If you hit the right players with your compliment, you absorb them into your team. If you hit the wrong players, they inform you that “you’re too kind.” If you hit someone who’s not playing – well, it’s friendlier than traditional crossfire, at least.

Continue reading “Playing in the Streets”

How to Help a French Documentarian

Jean-Baptiste Peretie is a director working on a documentary about geek culture for Arte. (For my fellow Americans: it’s kind of like a European PBS.) You might have seen the documentary’s crew if you were on the floor at Wondercon this year. We were chatting today about how hard it is to get a good, broad sample of people to interview for a study on such a diverse group (and don’t I know it). I offered to help out by trying to put you, my good readers, in touch with him.

If you’re a geek or a nerd and you’d like to be interviewed—especially if you happen to be over 40 years of age and/or are living in Europe—drop JB an email at European interviewees will be easier for JB and crew to film, of course, but rest assured that you can get away with speaking in English if that’s your only language. (We got on just fine with that this afternoon, which is good, as I speak no French, and my Spanish/Russian/Old Norse skills are rusty at best.) And don’t worry if you’re camera-shy; they’re not only looking for people to film, but even just people to chat with on Skype to help with their research.

So, once again: email to chat about geek culture, and help a French documentarian today.

“Ethnographic Blogging”

The latest issue of Cultural Science—an open-access, peer reviewed journal—is devoted to Internet Research Methods as Moments of Evolution. I had an article published in this issue, titled “Ethnographic Blogging: Reflections on a Methodological Experiment.” It is, as you can probably guess from the title, about how this Geek Studies blog was unexpectedly instrumental in conducting research for my dissertation on geek cultures.

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The Epidemics Epidemic

I’d like to quote something from a recent article on the “narcissism epidemic” or “Generation Me” at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The social sciences have too often jumped in feet first, raising unnecessary panics over video games, “fad” mental illnesses, and “crises” of sexual assault. I’ll acknowledge that it’s probably difficult to sell a book or get a government grant arguing that something isn’t a big problem, yet it is time for the social sciences to carefully consider the chasm that too often exists between the data that they produce and the claims they make to the scientific community and general public. Words such as “epidemic” should only ever be preceded by words like “smallpox,” and should henceforth be stricken from the social scientist’s lingo. (…)

The evidence just isn’t there for an epidemic of narcissism or anything else. Social scientists would do well to exercise a degree of caution when interpreting data. Just like with the little boy who cries wolf, people are bound to notice too many phantom epidemics. The price to be paid is the credibility of social science itself.

Of course I was thinking “video games” (and “comic books”) before I even got to the part of the article where the author mentions this. (Little did I know while reading this that the author, an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M, has already written about his take on game “violence” in particular.) I recommend the article for all academics who will wring their hands over the next big cultural boogeyman, and to all professors who lament the moral fiber of “kids today.”

(And as an added side note: As someone who was bullied and played dodgeball as a kid, I’m a little offended by the commenter who calls dodgeball a “particularly horrific game (in which authority figures actually encourage normal kids to act like bullies).” Maybe the bullies were different in this person’s neighborhood, but where I grew up, bullies beat you up, up-close and personal, and did not invite you to play a game of dodgeball with them.)

Arcadian Rhythms: Gaming and Interaction in Social Space

I have a new article up, titled “Arcadian Rhythms: Gaming and Interaction in Social Space.” It’s published in Reconstruction, a peer-reviewed journal of cultural research available for free online. (And don’t be put off by the French theorist in my abstract. I’m pretty sure the piece is accessible overall.)

This article focuses on how people interact in arcades, and how social dynamics and the cultural connotations behind games influences who plays what and with whom. It’s not nominally about geeks or geek cultures, but this study did end up influencing how I thought about my dissertation research. When you get to the parts about how people insulate themselves socially, and particularly one moment in which a boy loudly proclaims upon winning a game, “I’m the One! I’m ****in’ Neo!”, you may see what I mean.

Continue reading “Arcadian Rhythms: Gaming and Interaction in Social Space”

Geek Studies in Philadelphia & St. Louis

No, I won’t be returning to my old stomping grounds in Philly this semester, but I’m there in spirit: Over at Technically Philly, Brian James Kirk offers a Q&A with me about my dissertation research. Thanks to Brian for making me sound significantly more coherent than I remember being on our phone call.

Later this month, however, I will be in St. Louis at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. I’ll be presenting a paper that originated as a loosely-connected series of posts here about “The Multiple Appeals of Gaming.” Let me know if you expect to be at the conference and feel like discussing geeky things, as I have a tendency to do that when given the chance.

Citation Stylings

My dissertation occasionally presents me with some odd dilemmas resulting in strange turns of phrase. This is largely an artifact of working with an in-text citation style (APA), which blends a somewhat scientistic air with sometimes quite … let’s say, colorful names and language. No matter how many times I read this sentence, for instance, it looks strange to me, though there’s nothing objectively wrong with it:

Sexist, racist, and homophobic sentiments may be amplified by the somewhat anonymous and depersonalized format of internet venues – an “online disinhibition effect” (Suler, 2004) in psychological terms, though well known to geeks under such terms as “the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” (Kruhulik & Holkins, 2004).

The phrase is indeed well known, and I offer an endnote to expound upon that a bit. But it still looks like a weird sentence. (And yes, the lowercase “I” in “internet” is intentional.)

My dilemma today is how to cite an article by Iroquois Pliskin. Citing people by handle/screen name is usually no big deal for me. Because I’m quoting heavily from comments on blogs and publicly viewable forums, I already have plenty of citations like “(CmdrTaco, 2007).” This gets trickier when citing someone using a screen name that takes the form of a pen name. If I’m to treat this like a screen name, I’d cite it as “(Iroquois Pliskin, 2009).” On the other hand, this has a first and last name, so should it be “(Pliskin, 2009)”? “Mark Twain” was just a pen name for Samuel Clemens, but I think you’d still cite him as “(Twain, 1876).” And I haven’t even addressed how I decided to cite the Penny Arcade strip noted in the quote above as “(Krahulik and Holkins, 2004)” rather than “(Gabe and Tycho, 2004)”; citing when you have a screen name and a real name associated with a work presents its own challenges as well.

I’m not going to let something so silly hold me up right now, so I’m just going with citing as a screen name for consistency with the other online sources I’m using in cases when no real name is given on the work itself. Perhaps I’ll revise after defending if need be.

Arcadian Rhythms

I’ve recently received word that Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, an open-access journal, will be publishing a paper of mine in a 2009 issue. The paper, “Arcadian rhythms: Gaming and interaction in social space,” is a revised and updated version of the paper I described in my post on ICA 2007. The paper describes a participant-observation study spanning several months, which saw me visiting a few different arcades to get a sense of how people play and socialize around games in a semi-public space. (UPDATE: The paper is now online.)

Part of what fascinated me about this subject was how many journalists and even some other academics described video arcades as havens of racial harmony and class equality—a development, I think, partially resulting from the fact that arcades are much more socially stratified around gaming skills and interests than any more normally recognized index of cultural belonging. The distinction between “hardcore” and “casual” players made by many in the gaming press may be an incomplete and problematic construction of who plays games, but arcade-goers appear to make similar sorts of divisions between themselves, both in terms of social organization and formal differences in the games they choose to play. (Some of this now reads like a retrospective of how the Wii has been capable of reaching new gaming audiences, but this research was first conducted before the Wii’s control scheme was even announced. Ah well—so goes the pace of academic research and publication.)

The first version I wrote of this (even before presenting it at a conference) was actually quite a bit longer because a good portion was devoted to discussion of the much-lamented “death of arcades,” which ultimately seemed better addressed in some other paper. I focused on this direction because I’m more interested in connections between gameplay and culture than in developments in the industry, but we’re probably overdue to see a paper comparing and contrasting the American and Japanese arcade scenes. In fact, it was somewhat challenging to find enough sites for this paper, as some of those I planned to visit had closed not long before I started the research. Two more of my four sites have been effectively closed since submitting the paper for publication.

“Arcadian rhythms” goes online in the fall of 2009, but please feel free to email me now (jason @ this domain) if you’d like a copy to look at in advance.